Mt. Rakko-dake (楽古岳, Rakko-dake) is a pointed peak in the southern Hidaka Mountains (日高山脈, Hidaka-sanmyaku), the tall, jagged mountain range running down the spine of southern Hokkaido. Its characteristic pyramidal shape, easily picked out from the foot of the mountain, made it a favorite subject of landscape painter Sakamoto Naoyuki (坂本直行).
The mountain is named after the Rakko River (楽古川, Rakko-gawa), which makes its headwaters on the mountain’s slopes. The word rakko itself is the subject of competing etymological theories, however. While some claim that it's a lost Ainu word, Matsuura Takeshiro (松浦武西郎), famous Hokkaido explorer and author of Higashi-Ezo Nisshi (東蝦 夷日誌, an Eastern Hokkaido travelogue written at the end of the Edo Period), claims that the name came from seeing a sea otter (in Japanese 猟虎, rakko) at the mouth of the river.
There are trails up both sides of the mountain: one on the Tokachi (十勝) side and one on the Hidaka (日高) side. In this guide you’ll hike the Hidaka side, starting at Rakko Lodge (楽古山荘, Rakko-sansou). Because the first half of the hike climbs a small stream and the second half involves ridge walking, it's recommended that you bring two different pairs of shoes (one for the wet, and one for the dry).
Starting at Hidaka-Horobetsu (日高幌別), you’ll head down National Route 236 (国道236号線, Kokudou 236 gosen) towards the mountains. Just before you reach the confluence of the Niobetsu (ニオベツ川, Niobetsu-gawa) and the Menashunbetsu Rivers (メナシュンベツ川, Menashunbetsu-gawa), you’ll turn off the 236, cross the Youshun Bridge (陽春橋, Youshun-bashi), and head down a forest road.
Get ready for some long Ainu names. At the confluence of the Koibukushu-menashunbetsu Stream (コイブクシュメナシュンベツ沢, Koibukushimenashunbetsu-sawa) and the Menashunbetsu you’ll find Rakko Lodge. If you can swing it, it’s a great place to spend the night before climbing the mountain the following day.
From the lodge, you’ll cross the Menashunbetsu and head down an old logging road along the left bank of the river. Away from the bustle of the hut, the forest will quiet down and you’ll trek along amid the beautiful sweeping leaves of some ancient ferns. So long as the water level is about normal, you shouldn’t have any trouble along here.
At 470 meters above sea level you’ll leave the water at a spot called Kami-futamata (上二股). If you're running low on water here, feel free to fill up, as this is the last fill-up spot on the trail. From here you’ll start climbing a steep slope along the top of a ridge. As you climb through the Japanese lime and Mongolian oak trees, the grade will get more and more difficult until finally you come to Rakko-dake-no-kata (楽古岳の肩, ‘the shoulder of Rakko-dake’) at about 1300 meters above sea level. The vistas will suddenly open up here, and you’ll have an unimpeded view up and down the ridgelines to the north and south.
From the shoulder, you’ll climb through windblown Erman’s birch and dwarf stone pine as you make your way upwards to the summit. Though the climb consists of almost a full kilometer of vertical ascent all at once, I'm sure you'll agree that it's at the very least a straightforward climb from ravine to ridgeline.
At the summit of Rakko-dake yellow-flowered rhododendron and Matusmura cinquefoil blossom in the early summer; in fall you’ll be surrounded by bright red lingonberry. Since the Ezo bears that eat the fruits of the dwarf stone pine might also be about, keep your wits about you on the summit. As Rakko-dake is relatively prominent mountain in the Northern Hidaka ranges, the view from the summit won’t disappoint. You’ll be able to see as far as the slender Mt. Tokachi-dake (十勝岳, Tokachi-dake) in the north; to the south the Pacific Ocean will seem tremendously close and tremendously vast. Bringing your gaze closer to home, the views over the mountains of Pinneshiri (ピンネシリ) Mt. Apoi-dake (アポイ岳) alone are worth writing home about.
You’ll head back down the trail you came up. Take your time on the way down—the huge ridgeline'll disappear in a snap once you've started the descent into the ravine.
At the beginning of summer the contrast between the dark dwarf stone pine and the bright snow is beautiful. In mid- June, you’ll be able to see Japanese wood poppy and Matsumura cinquefoil blooming along the ridgeline. The leaves change in late September. Since the snow comes quite late to the Hidaka range, late fall is an especially wonderful time to climb.